By Jason Goorman
Local Sports Journal

Welcome to the 2014 high school football season!JG gridiron picks logo

Based on the information we gathered while putting together our high school football preview section, this is bound to be another banner year for Muskegon area teams.

The preview section, by the way, is available in area Plumbs markets and other retail outlets for only $2.

Defending state champion Muskegon Catholic is loaded again. State runner-up Muskegon has a bunch of great skill players returning. State semifinalist Shelby has new skill players, but they will be well protected by a big, veteran line.

Oakridge, another semifinalist, has a young team, but that’s never stopped the Eagles before.

It will be interesting to see what Mona Shores and Reeths-Puffer have up their sleeves, following their long-awaited playoff berths last season.

Here’s a tip – keep an eye on Ravenna. The Bulldogs have the athletes and the experience this year to push their way back toward the top of the West Michigan Conference.

In any case, my job is to pick winners for each week’s games, so here’s my first effort. Please know going in that I root for all area teams, and I certainly don’t play favorites. But someone has to win and lose every game, and I’m ready to demonstrate my expertise by hitting 100 percent in the first week!

Okay, maybe 80 or 90 percent. Could you do better?

Detroit Catholic at MUSKEGON – This is a leap of faith, because DCC is very good (three years in a row in the state finals) and the Big Reds have some new faces in key positions. But Muskegon will be at home in front of a big crowd, and will squeak out a very close win.

MUSKEGON CATHOLIC at Bishop Hartley (Ohio) – We hear Hartley is among the best small school teams in Ohio. Well, MCC is the same in Michigan, and Michigan football is superior to Ohio football. MCC wins.

G.R. West Catholic at OAKRIDGE – West Catholic is always great. So is Oakridge. Some might say the Eagles are a bit too young, following heavy graduation losses, to stick with GRWC. They’re wrong.

Grand Haven at FRUITPORT – Both teams are climbing their way back up the ladder following disappointing seasons a year ago. Fruitport will be rededicating its stadium to the late Dr. Pierce. The edge goes to the Trojans on an emotional night.

MONA SHORES at Saline – Not sure how many weapons the Sailors have following their big playoff season in 2013, but they still have all-everything quarterback Tyree Jackson. Have you seen this kid air it out? That’s good enough for me.

Holland at REETHS-PUFFER – It will be interesting to see how the Rockets manage without their three great running backs from last year – Julian Munday and Corey Plichta (graduated) and Dereko Riley, a talented senior who is out with a hamstring problem. But we know one thing for sure – Puffer has a monster defense, and it will shut down Holland.

Holton at NORTH MUSKEGON – May be one of the best matchups in the area this week. Both teams have good players back and dreams of returning to the playoffs for the first time in several years. This is a toughie, but I’ll bet North Muskegon has a few more weapons to get the job done. 28-21 Norse.

MONTAGUE at Orchard View – This game will be closer than everyone expects. Orchard View played a bunch of underclassmen last year, and they’re back and better this season. But Montague, behind junior quarterback Jacob Buchberger, still has enough to outlast the rising Cardinals. Probably.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS at Godwin Heights – After dealing with the tragic loss of two teammates in the offseason, a super motivated Heights squad will grab victory number one.

RAVENNA at Kent City – Not to jinx the Bulldogs, but Coach David Smith may have one really good team on his hands. Wide receiver David Thompson, only a sophomore, should have a great year after catching 10 touchdown passes as a freshman last year – yes, on the varsity team.

Sparta at FREMONT – The Packers tasted the playoffs last year, and they are hungry for more. The will send the Spartans packing.

Manistee Catholic at HART – The Pirates were winless last year, but sophomore running back Brady Tate will pile up some yards this season. Our bet is that a fair share of them will come against Manistee Catholic and Hart will get a much-needed W.

SHELBY at Grant – The Tigers lost a lot of quality skill players, but a big line, led by Kevin Brink (6-0, 305), will get the job done against most teams, including Grant.

NEWAYGO at Hesperia – The Panthers have some players, but also have a brand new coach and a new system to learn. The Lions walk away with a win.

WHITEHALL at Kelloggsville – The Vikings were 1-8 last year, but they have some players, including star running back Trip Thommen, who gained nearly 1,000 yards in 2013. There is good reason for Viking fans to come to the games this fall.

SPRING LAKE at Coopersville – The Lakers were very good last year and have nearly everyone back, including standout QB Mark Williamson and talented fullback Jake Frederick. They will provide all the offense that’s needed to buck the Broncos.